Watch: LAPD tries to clean up its image, misses a spot

The LAPD — indeed, police nationwide — has been facing a huge problem in recent months, with numerous cases of police brutality prompting public outrage. Of course, police brutality isn’t new in and of itself, but in the highly digitized and refocused public eye it seems that, at least in LA, heightened scrutiny may finally be leading to action that could address the problem.

The problem, of course, being bad PR. It seems like the media can’t go a day without spotlighting a cop who has misjudged a situation and completely overreacted. Nowadays, we have instant videos and strong social media networks creating a communication system that “makes it seem like law enforcement across this entire country are corrupt, brutal, lying thugs,” says Commander Phillip Tingirides of the LAPD. “And that simply is not true.” Now, the LAPD is trying some community outreach to regain the public’s trust.

The outreach program, which invites community leaders to stand in a cadet’s shoes during a training for the appropriate use of lethal force, has been featured in a mini documentary by LA-based documentarians, Rita Baghdadi and Jeremiah Hammerling. In their twelve-minute short, viewers are given insight into the virtual training, where cadets “react” to footage of a bank robber, up to and including the firing of a gun at point blank range. The guests from the community don’t do so well, fingers slipping on the trigger as the robber in the video runs at them. “It surprises people how quickly things evolve in a use-of-force situation,” says Dr. Luann Pannell, the director of LAPD’s training and education, in an immediate cutaway.

You can watch the 12-minute documentary here:

It seems like the object of the exercise was to create empathy for the police force, to show participants “what it’s like to have seconds to choose the most appropriate measure.” Or maybe they just want to show the rigorous training and review that officers undergo to make the correct decisions. However, that’s not what I took from my viewing.

The documentary shows civilians slipping up and making mistakes upon being introduced to police training practices — the same mistakes that we have seen officers make time and time again after completing their training and entering the field. Taken out of context — an editorial necessity for both the documentary and the actual outreach sessions — these glimpses provide no reassurance to the general public that police training actually prepares law enforcers for their jobs. All they show is that training doesn’t do as much to separate officers from civilians as anyone would like to think. The point they’re trying to make is that training goes so far, but the implication is that the training might not go anywhere at all. While I still understand, or at least hope, that that isn’t anywhere near the actual truth, if your aim is a good PR pitch it helps to have a clear message.

LAPD SWAT team, via Wikimedia Commons

LAPD SWAT team, via Wikimedia Commons

The rest of the well-made and thought provoking documentary tells a mother’s story of her experience with police brutality, interspersed with reflections from police officers on why there is so much misunderstanding and broken trust between the police and the public. It left me divided; from the brief portrayal of the police-community outreach, I didn’t see much to inspire trust. The views of life inside training seemed guns-out and militant, and as Francisco Ortega of the Human Relations Commission describes in the documentary, “It’s unrealistic that an officer is going to take that training and then go, thank God, I’m free of bias because I took that training.”

He’s absolutely right. There will always be bias, and there will always be situations in which police officers rely on fear and instinct. Policing is hard and, by all accounts, is even harder now. But training is, or at least should be, what transforms instinct into skill and force into balance. What I see from the LAPD in this outreach and in this documentary is a misdirected apology — an attempt to explain why police killings happen instead of an attempt to prevent them from happening, which is what we’d all rather see from them.

I applaud the LAPD for taking a step in the right direction by creating a space to talk to the community, and by promoting transparency in their training. Face-to-face communication does help, and I hope that the meetings between people and other people — as opposed to confrontations between the police and public — can change enough individuals to change the environment around them. I’m still unconvinced that changing the police officer’s image is something that needs to happen right now, and of course, the best publicity would be to actually work on stopping more murders from happening. But if deliberate rebranding is going to be a major part of the plan, it needs to take into account the cultural context of systematic fear and bias that lies at the core of unnecessary police violence.

Ariana Chomitz
Ariana Chomitz is a Kenyon College graduate with a B.A. in Anthropology. A specialist in international and experiential education, she has lived, studied and taught in urban Asia. She likes talking about culture, education and the environment.

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  • Bill_Perdue

    Things change. We’re in the beginning stages of a vast radicalization.
    The left is helping to lead and organize that by helping top organize the unorganized and fight for a decent minimum wage and doing quite well. We’ll win and you rightists will lose. That’s a good thing.

  • Indigo

    #chucklenesort

    :-)

  • emjayay

    Looks like public opinion was about the same two, six, eight, and thirteen years ago. Two and a quarter centuries of US history under the Constitutional system are of course there to consult.

  • emjayay

    But….but….I thought the answer to gun violence was definitely turning the entire country into one big OK Corral!

  • emjayay

    I usually go with Adam Smith or sometimes throw down a little Keynes or Veblen, but some comments just call for a little Karl.

  • emjayay

    I guess I should have added the smiley face at the end or something. I always think I am being so stunningly obvious ;-)

  • Indigo

    I didn’t realize your positions were grounded in old time Hegelian dialectic in its purist, almost biblical form. Lovely. And as quaint as daguerreotype of Queen Victoria. Have you nothing more recently expounded?

  • 2karmanot

    ‘Hegelian dialectic’ Now yer talking, but it depends on what the definition of ‘Is’ is. Just ask Billy Goat Clinton.

  • Bill_Perdue

    It will happen when people get tired of those who defend racist cops.

  • emjayay

    This will of course happen any day now when the internal contradictions of capitalism inevitably result in a dictatorship of the proletariat in accord with the laws of the Hegelian dialectic .

  • Nevermind!

  • therling

    “Why German police officers rarely reach for their guns.”

    “‘Don’t shoot’ – that’s not only the title of a police weapons training course in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, it’s a main goal. (…) ‘If tunnel vision sets in when we’re in a stressful situation, we resort to proven and tested tactics, everyone does that,” Enkling says. If an officer has practiced again and again not to act immediately but to get a handle on the situation first, to speak calmly to a suspect – he stands a good chance to fall back on that pattern when the situation arises.”

    http://www.dw.de/why-german-police-officers-rarely-reach-for-their-guns/a-17884779

  • Bill_Perdue

    ‘Constance L. “Connie” Rice (born April 5, 1956) is a prominent American civil rights activist and lawyer. She is also the co-founder and co-director of the
    Advancement Project in Los Angeles. She has received more than 50 major awards for her work in expanding opportunity and advancing multi-racial democracy. She is a second cousin of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
    wiki

  • Bill_Perdue

    Calling cops thugs is accurate. There are dozens of publicized instances this year that prove that prove what he said is absolutely true. And likely thousand more that haven’t got the publicity.

    Calling commenters like 2karmanot, or me, if that’s who you’re addressing, a moron is just an excuse for not being able to come up with an answer.

  • David Fowler

    Wrong. That’s just a moron response.

  • And a fashion leader – just think how great those Ferragamo shoes she was buying as Katrina was drowning New Orleans would go with this spunky, summery dress (called “The Condi”)!

    http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1919976!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/abughraib29n-2-web.jpg

  • Bill_Perdue

    Exactly.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Judges, jails, police and the military are the last line of defense for the rich and the wealth they steal from workers.

    Anyone serious about change will have to recognize the need to disarm and disband them and start anew with militias created and trained by working people and communities of people of color.

  • 2karmanot

    Constance Rice is an incredible woman who has devoted her life to the downtrodden in LA and has worked virtually unnoticed for decades.

  • 2karmanot

    Most good cops are desk jockeys and all the rest are sociopaths with license to kill or social/religious agendas to execute ( pardon the pun).

  • Indigo

    There’s no misunderstanding, there’s misrepresentation. The training is not thorough enough and the hidden robo-cop mentality is not tamed. Not until it hits the headlines, at least.

  • GeorgeMokray

    Constance Rice has been working with the LAPD for years on a community policing program that seems to be extremely successful. She’s with the Advancement Project in LA. I wonder why she has not been all over the media as we begin to head into our tenth month of continuous police violence and protests against it all across the country.

  • Ariana Chomitz

    To clarify, I find the video to be incredibly valuable as it is. As I understood it, I believe it was also an independent project and not specifically part of the LAPD program.

  • In this country, trained law enforcement officers, who have to pass regular competency testing (in theory), are only barely capable of wielding a firearm responsibly. Expecting a random JoeBob who bought his handgun at Dick’s Sporting Goods, without a background check, and maybe took a few hours of instruction in shooting at the local range for his carry permit, to be able to react sensibly and make split second decisions on who around him gets to live or die, is absolutely ridiculous.

  • nicho

    It also shows the lie of the NRA. Untrained civilians are not capable of defending themselves with a handgun and can and will make terrible mistakes.

    It is really dishonest to put a gun into the hands of someone who hasn’t had extensive training and expect them to react in a hostile situations.

    However, this shouldn’t be a total waste. They should use this film to show to people who say that school teachers and other people should be armed to precent violence. No they shouldn’t. And this video shows why.

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